Monday, December 25, 2017

The Animals at the Manger

Italian, c. 1945-1955
My original creche, purchased at Woolworth's by my parents around the time I was born.  While the figures are 
Italian, the stable structure is probably of American manufacture.

Every Christmas that I can remember I have had the same creche.  It was bought by my parents when I was a baby, assembled from inexpensive figures available at Woolworth's.  The figures are made of plaster, formed in molds, then dried and painted.

When I was very small I used to play with them, in much the same way as I played with my dolls.  But, they had a more powerful aura than my dolls did.  For one thing, they only appeared for a fairly short time each year and, for another, I knew that they represented something very special, especially the Baby, Mary, Joseph and the angels.  I wasn't too certain about the specialness of the shepherds and kings, so today I find those figures to be pretty beat up, while the figures of the Holy Family and the angels are almost pristine.  Indeed, the kings were so badly beaten up that a few years ago I scoured Ebay till I found the correct replacements.  And, to my immense surprise a number of the replacements still had the original stamping on the bottom.  That's how I discovered that this simple set of figures were made in Italy shortly after World War II.  Who knew!

Annual Christmas Tree with 18th Century Neapolitan Creche
Italian, 18th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
At left is a frontal view of the entire tree.  At right is a close up of the central group of figures.
Every creche, from the simplest set to the great elaborate Italian baroque presepi, such as the annual display at the Metropolitan Museum, has a pretty standard cast of characters, just as mine does.  In addition to the Holy Family and the angels there are shepherds, sheep, dogs, wise men and camels.  But among the most basic there are the two most important animals, the cow or ox and the donkey, usually referred to as the ox and the ass.  The ox or cow is, of course, the inhabitant of the stable where Mary and Joseph found refuge.  The donkey represents the beast of burden that brought them to Bethlehem from Nazareth.  And, according to my mother, who was raised on a farm, their breath helped to keep the Baby warm as He lay in the manger.

So far, so good.  However, nowhere in the New Testament descriptions of the birth of Jesus is there a single mention of these two animals (or any others, for that matter).  So, where and when did they enter the story, at least visually? In order to find out, I have embarked on a quest of sorts, searching for the earliest images of the manger scene.

Thus I can tell you that the ox and ass have appeared in every Nativity scene I have examined, going back to the fourth century!  That is the time during which Christians felt free enough to make public art, no longer confining it to the household or to the veiled symbolism so frequent in the funerary art found in the catacombs.

Fragment of a Sarcophagus Frontal with Scenes from the Nativity
Roman, c. 330-360
Vatican, Museo Pio-Cristiano

Nativity Scene from a Fragment of Sarcophagus Frontal
Unknown Provenance, 4th Century
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum

Nativity Scene from a Fragment of Sarcophagus Frontal
Unknown Provenance, 4th Century
Vatican, Pio-Cristiano Museum

Nativity from a Sarcophagus Frontal
Byzantine, Late 4th or Early 5th Century
Athens, Byzantine and Christian Museum
Nativity from the So-Called "Sarcophagus of Stilicho"
Roman, 4th Century
Milan, Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio
Byzantine, 7th-9th Century
Sinai, Monastery of Saint Catherine

From The Gospels of Chartres
French, c. 850-900
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9386, fol. 64

Ivory Plaque of the Nativity
Byzantine (Constantinople), 10th Century
Baltimore, Walters Art Museum

From the Book of Pericopes of Henry II
German (Reichenau), c. 1007-1012
Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek
MS Clm 4452, fol. 22

From the St. Alban's Psalter or Psalter of Christina of Markyate
English (St. Alban's Abbey), First half of the 12th Century
Hildesheim, Dombibliothek

From a Psalter (Single Leaf) detail
English (Canterbury), c. 1155-1160
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 724, fol. 1v

From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1225-1250
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 92, fol. 3v

From the Carrow Psalter-Hours
English (East Anglia), c. 1250
Baltimore, Walters Art Museum
MS W.34, fol. 32r

From the Livre d’images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainaut), c. 1275-1300
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition francaise 16251, fol. 21r

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Nativity with Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel
Italian, c. 1308-1311
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Lorenzo Monaco, Nativity
Italian, c. 1406-1410
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Nativity
Italian, 1492
Cambridge (UK). Fitzwilliam Museum

Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Nativity at Night
Dutch, c. 1490
London, National Gallery

Jacopo Bassano, Adoration of Shepherds
Italina, 1544-1545
Windsor, Royal Collection

Federico Barocci, Nativity
Italian, 1597
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

Guido Reni, Adoration of Shepherds
Italian, c.1640
London, National Gallery

James Tissot, Adoration of the Shepherds
French, 1886-1894
New York, Brooklyn Museum

So, it appears that these humble domestic animals have been part of the Christmas story from the very beginning of Christian iconography.  This seems entirely appropriate as we remember that the Lord of Space and Time chose to enter human time as a baby born in a borrowed stable and put to bed in a feeding trough usually used by cows and donkeys.

Wishing to every reader the blessings of the Birth of Christ I will say Merry Christmas!

© M. Duffy, 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017

Winter 2017-2018 Art Offerings in Manhattan

The excitement of the Christmas/Holiday period is now upon us and our Manhattan museums are presenting a truly outstanding cornucopia of exhibitions.  So, unless the weather is truly frightful, button up your coat and come see what’s around. Save the Christmas windows and the Rockefeller Center tree for evening, when the museums are closed and the lights shine most brightly. (And don’t forget some of the other lovely trees in town, such as, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Park, Carl Schurz Park, Washington Square Park and others.)

I will start this list with the biggest of Manhattan’s museums, the METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART or, as it now likes to be called, THE MET (  Recently expanded through the opening of the former site of the Whitney Museum, renamed the Breuer Building, The Met is of course, in itself, a feast of offerings. 

At the main building, now known as THE MET FIFTH AVENUE (Fifth Avenue and West 82nd Street), there will be two blockbuster exhibitions, plus a host of smaller ones, to tempt interested visitors.  The major shows are:

Michelangelo, Divine Draftsman and Designer, which runs until January 7, 2018.  This show is huge and provides a complete overview of the great man’s work, from his boyhood studies in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio to his last great works, Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine and Pauline Chapels in the Vatican and preparations for his final Pietas.  Comprising 133 of his drawings, mixed with sculpture, paintings and architectural renderings, a huge number of items have been loaned by other museums, galleries and libraries, as well as by private collections generally off-limits to the public, including the Vatican, the Laurentian Library in Florence (whose building was designed by Michelangelo) and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  It features, among other astonishing things, the complete copy of his lost painting of the Battle of Cascina (part of a competition that pitted the young Michelangelo against the older and very famous, Leonardo da Vinci), all the drawings done for his friend, Tomaso de’ Cavalieri and now owned by the Queen, his drawings for his friend, Vittoria Colonna, part of the cartoon for the Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, several statues from his hand and a wooden architectural model of part of the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica.   There is also a one-quarter scale reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the gallery that contains the relevant drawings.  The reduced scale works well with the lower height of the ceiling in providing a fairly accurate experience of seeing those painting in situ in Rome.

For all these reasons, this exhibition is already immensely popular and densely crowded.  Therefore, I would suggest that you make every attempt to see it either very early or very late.  The museum opens at 10 AM every morning and the hour between 10 and 11 AM are likely to be good.  Also the hours between 7 and 9 PM on Friday and Saturday are a little less intense.  Also, don’t try to see the entire thing in one go.  It is immense and you will wear yourself out, especially if the galleries are super crowded.  Therefore, I suggest that you see as much as you can, but break off when you become too tired and return another day.  Indeed, this is an exhibition that will greatly reward repeated visits.  And, as the New York Times art reviewer stated “It’s a one-stop event with a non-extendable three-month run, which is the maximum exposure to light, even at dusk-level, that the drawings can safely stand. Once the show’s done, the likelihood of there being another on its scale within the lifetime of anyone reading these words is slim.”1

Sitting side-by-side with Michelangelo is another blockbuster, but this time it’s a retrospective for a living artist, the British painter David Hockney, and honors his 80th birthday.  It will run until February 25, 2018.  “From his early experiments with modernist abstraction and mid-career experiments with illusion and realism, to his most recent, jewel-toned landscapes, Hockney has consistently explored the nature of perception and representation with both intellectual rigor and sheer delight in the act of looking.”2 This exhibition is also creating quite a buzz and is almost as popular, and as crowded, as the Michelangelo.  Do not expect to be able to see both in the same day unless you have really good stamina.  Once again, I suggest that you try to visit it either very early or very late in the day.

But, these two popular exhibitions are not the only things the Met Fifth Avenue has up its sleeve this season.  Alongside (literally) the two exhibitions above is another, focusing on the great French sculptor, Auguste Rodin.  This exhibition, Rodin at the Met, unlike the two above, is drawn solely from the Met’s own collection and demonstrates the depth of the museum’s holdings of this important artist.  Many of the pieces were collected during Rodin’s lifetime, thanks to a generous gift from Rodin’s American patron, Thomas Fortune Ryan, in 1910. The exhibition runs through January 15, 2018.

Among the other things on offer at the MET FIFTH AVENUE are:

Leonardo to Matisse, Master Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection, which runs until January 7, 2018.   This is a lovely exhibition which provides a kind of counterpoint to the drawings of Michelangelo.  Like the Rodin exhibition, however, it is drawn from the Met’s own holdings, specifically from the Robert Lehman Collection, which was given to the museum in 1969, on Mr. Lehman’s death.  It presents 60 drawings from great masters of the Renaissance (Leonardo) right through art history up to the early twentieth century (Matisse).  “The exhibition is the first to explore Robert Lehman's significant activity as a 20th-century collector by highlighting the full range of his vast and distinguished drawings collection, which numbers more than 700 sheets.”3

The Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche, also on view until January 7, 2018.  This annual and much-loved tradition, with its tiny figures in fantastically detailed attire, recreate the visit of the Magi and the shepherds to the Holy Family, while dozens of angels float above among the tree branches.  The main figures are surrounded by scores of recreations of ordinary people and animals going about their everyday tasks.  It is always great fun to explore the surrounding figures because, while the main figures in the story remain the same each year, the surrounding figures change position and come and go as different aspects of life in an 18th-century Italian city are shown.  This has been a Met tradition, dating back to 1964 when the figures were gifted to the museum by Loretta Hines Howard, whose family still participate in the maintenance and set up of the crèche each year. 

Also on view until January 7 is World War I and the Visual Arts.  This interesting show demonstrates the response of artists to the horrific shock of the First World War.   Every aspect of the war is covered, from recruiting posters, photographs, drawings, engravings, etchings, to lithographs.  Most come from within the war years (1914-1918), with a few post-war works.  And, from this perspective it is interesting to note how the response changed over these years, from an initial outburst of patriotism and/or rage, to recording the actual experience of the war, to reflecting bitterly on its costs and on the hope for peace. 

For enthusiasts of American Western art there is an exhibition of the works of Frederic Remington in the mezzanine level of the American Wing, which closes January 2, 2018.  It includes numerous examples of the bronze sculptures for which Remington is best known, but also includes many of his graphic works as well.  Like the Rodin exhibition, this show is drawn from within the Met’s own voluminous collection.

On a different note, an exhibition in the Japanese galleries has drawn a great deal of attention.  This “loan exhibition showcases more than 80 bamboo baskets and sculptures created by accomplished artists, including all six masters who have received the designation "Living National Treasure." Highlighting key stages in the modern history of Japanese Bamboo Art, the exhibition is drawn from the Abbey Collection, one of the finest private collections of Japanese baskets and bamboo sculpture; most of the works have never before been presented in public.”4 The majority of these objects, those from the Abbey Collection, will find their permanent home at the Met as the owners, Diane and Arthur Abbey, are giving them to the museum.  This exhibition will be on view until February 4, 2018.

Finally, a just-opened exhibition, is The Silver Caesars: A Renaissance Mystery, which will be on display until March 11, 2018.  The exhibition focuses on a series of twelve elaborately ornamented cups, known as tazze, created during the 16th Century.  Known as the Aldobrandini Tazze, the twelve formed a series with one cup decorated with scenes from the lives of each of the first twelve Caesars, as told by Suetonius.  Broken up during the subsequent centuries they are united for the first time in almost 200 years.  They are considered to be among the finest works of Renaissance goldsmith work.

THE MET BREUER (Madison Avenue and East 75th Street) is also hosting two important exhibitions during this season:

Delirious, Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980, which runs till January 14, 2018 explores the often unsettling art of the period in which I grew up.  This was a period of disquiet (as when is not?) which was reflected in works of art that challenged all the prior rules, including those that were by then established for even the abstract.  “Linked by a common distrust of reason, the featured works alternately simulate and stimulate delirium, straining the limits of both legibility and intelligibility. Ultimately, the exhibition asks if it is possible to understand a good deal of postwar art, even seemingly rational art, as an exercise in calculated lunacy.”5

Edvard Munch, Between the Clock and the Bed, which runs until February 4, 2018 expands greatly our collective, popular impression of Munch’s work, taking us well beyond The Scream.  The 43 works on display give us a Munch of color and of land- and city-scapes and, yes, of anxiety and depression.  These are “compositions created over a span of six decades, including 16 self-portraits and works that have never before been seen in the United States. More than half of the works on view were part of Munch's personal collection and remained with him throughout his life.”6

The Metropolitan Museum’s third arm, the MET CLOISTERS (in Fort Tryon Park at the top of Manhattan Island), is a museum specializing in the art of the Middle Ages.  This season it is not offering any special exhibitions, but is a magical place to visit during Christmas time, when the galleries are hung with elaborate garlands straight out of a fifteenth-century painting.  While there are no special exhibitions there are some special Christmas concerts, some already completed, but one about to happen.  “An Eton Choirbook Christmas” will have two performances on December 16th, at 1 PM and at 3 PM in the 12th century Spanish Fuentidueña Chapel, which has wonderful acoustics.  Tickets are $65.00 each and can be purchased here, Buy Tickets.  

Beyond THE MET the other museums of New York also have many things to offer. 

The FRICK COLLECTION (Fifth Avenue at East 70th Street) gives us two splendid gifts for Christmas this year ( 

The first is Murillo:  The Self-Portraits, which runs until February 4, 2018.  In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Murillo’s birth this exhibition originally united two self-portraits, made approximately 20 years apart, which are owned by the Frick and the National Gallery in London.  “To provide context to these canvases, the exhibition also features a group of fifteen other works on loan from international private and public collections. These will include paintings of other sitters by Murillo, as well as later reproductions of the two paintings that reflect their fame in Europe.”  Recently, a third, newly rediscovered self-portrait was added to the show. 7  

The second is Veronese in Murano: Two Venetian Renaissance Masterpieces Restored.  This exhibition focuses on two recently conserved and rarely seen paintings by the celebrated artist Paolo Veronese (1528–1588), St. Jerome in the Wilderness and St. Agatha Visited in Prison by St. Peter. “While the paintings are known to scholars, their remote location in a church in Murano, an island in the lagoon of Venice, has made them difficult to study. ….The exhibition provides a unique opportunity for an international audience to discover these two masterpieces in New York.”8 This exhibition will run until March 11, 2018.

The MORGAN LIBRARY (at Madison Avenue between East 36th and 37th Streets, has a quartet of exhibitions on offer. 

Most important for the subject matter of this blog is Magnificent Gems: Medieval Treasure Bindings which runs until January 7, 2018.  This exhibition focuses on the beautifully bejeweled book bindings of the Middle Ages.  In an age when all books were the products of the human hand those that were brilliantly illuminated, especially the Bible and the books used for liturgical purposes, they were treasured and frequently honored with incredible covers of gold and precious stones.  Few have survived the centuries, frequently being destroyed to recover the value of their metal.  The Viking invasions and the Reformation were particularly hard on valuable book covers.  So, it is a major event that the Morgan is displaying its amazing collection of bindings collected primarily by J.P. Morgan and his father, J. Pierpont Morgan.  Along with the bindings are manuscripts whose borders depict similar jewel studded decorations, demonstrating how highly prized were the jeweled bindings themselves.

In keeping with the season, the Morgan is also offering Charles Dickens and the Spirit of Christmas, which runs until January 14, 2018 and celebrates the 150th anniversary of Dickens’ reading tour of America.  It focuses on the little known (at least to me) fact that Dickens wrote several Christmas novellas, not just “A Christmas Carol”.   That was only the first of five.  It also includes, on December 15th at 6:30 PM, a dramatic reading of that first novella.  Tickets are $25.00 (with reductions for members and children) and can be ordered here Buy Tickets.

Also on view are two exhibitions drawn from the Thaw Collection, formed by Eugene and Clare Thaw who are among today’s major collectors and museum benefactors, and recently gifted to the Morgan.  

The first, Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection, runs until January 7, 2018 and “focuses on pivotal artists and key moments in the history of draftsmanship. Works by major masters from the Renaissance to the modern era will be on view, including Mantegna, Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Piranesi, Watteau, Fragonard, Goya, Ingres, Turner, Daumier, Redon, Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and Pollock.”9

Another, Views of Rome and Naples: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection, runs until March 18, 2018.  This exhibition focuses on the oil sketches of these two Italian cities made during the second half of the eighteenth century.  At the time, a visit to Italy, and especially to these two historic cities, by young artists was an essential part of their training.  “Working outdoors, artists recorded their observations of these natural and man-made wonders in small-scale studies, mostly executed with oil paint on paper. In these oils, painters captured the grandiosity of Rome’s classical ruins and the sublime natural beauty of Naples, with its famous view of Mount Vesuvius. Artists from France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, and Sweden are featured in this selection.”10

And, on January 19, 2018 the Morgan will open a major exhibition on the drawings of the 17th Century Flemish greats trio of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens.  The show will be composed from within the Morgan’s own holdings and loans from other museums and will be a wonderful opportunity to compare the work of these three artists, whose work revolutionized Flemish art and contributed vastly to the 17th Century Baroque style in neighboring France and Holland.  This exhibition will run until April 29, 2018.

MOMA, THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues,, has a few exhibitions that may be of interest.  

The first is most unusual for MoMA, it’s a fashion exhibition!  As the MoMA website points out, it is the first fashion related exhibition in the museum’s history.  Unlike recent shows at the Met, which focus on the work of a particular designer, this show explores items of clothing that have had an influence on fashion in the twentieth century.  Items: Is Fashion Modern? Will run until January 28, 2018

The second MoMA exhibition, Max Ernst: Beyond Painting will run until January 1, 2018.  Ernst loved to experiment with techniques, which often give his paintings an air of otherworldliness.  “Featuring approximately 100 works drawn from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition includes paintings that challenged material and compositional conventions; collages and overpaintings utilizing found printed reproductions; frottages (rubbings); illustrated books and collage novels; sculptures of painted stone and bronze; and prints made using a range of techniques.”11

Finally, there is an exhibition that may be of interest to those of us who have grown up during the years of the computer revolution (and perhaps also to those who arrived here when the revolution was nearly over), Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989, which will run until April 8, 2018.  “The exhibition reveals how artists, architects, and designers operating at the vanguard of art and technology deployed computing as a means to reconsider artistic production.”12

The NEUE GALERIE (Fifth Avenue at East 86th Street, will be showing Wiener Werkstätte 1903-1932: The Luxury of Beauty, which will run until January 29, 2018.  “More than 400 objects have been selected for the presentation, and the loans are drawn from both public and private collections in the United States and Europe, including significant pieces from Austria. This show surveys the entirety of the firm’s extensive output in a variety of media, including ceramics, drawings, fashion, furniture, glass, graphic design, jewelry, metalwork, textiles, and wallpaper.”13

New York’s two museums of history are also offering some exhibitions of more than usual interest.

The NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Central Park West and 77th Street,, is displaying its recently rehung collection of paintings, one of the most important collections of the Hudson River School in existence.  The exhibition, entitled Collector's Choice: Highlights from the Permanent Collection, is described as ongoing.

Also ongoing is the newly created gallery of Tiffany lamps.  The new space displays approximately 100 examples of Tiffany lamps, along with information on how they were created, about the designers who worked on them and the milieu in which they were used. 

The Historical Society also has several other exhibitions that may be of interest.  Among them are:
·         The Vietnam War: 1945 – 1975, which will run until April 22, 2018.
·         American Visionary: John F. Kennedy's Life and Times, which runs until January 7, 2018
·         Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection.  This will close on February 25, 2018.
·         The ongoing exhibition of Audubon’s Birds of America.

The MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK (Fifth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets, will offer several interesting small exhibitions.       

      New York Silver, Then and Now (ongoing) compares silver recently crafted in New York with that done by New York silversmiths during the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries.

Art in the Open, Fifty Years of Public Art in New York.  This  will run until May 13, 2018.  Reviews the public art of the last half century which has a different character to prior public art.

Mod New York, Fashion Takes a Trip focuses on the decade of the 1960s a time in which a revolution in fashion accompanied so many other revolutions in manners, politics and morals.  The exhibition closes on April 1, 2018

The Stettheimer Dollhouse
(ongoing).  This wonderfully detailed dollhouse was created in the time just after the First World War, and is a delightful time trip for adults as well as for children.

Many people are unaware that the NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY also presents exhibitions from its vast holdings of books and other paper ephemera and, this Christmas, has two special exhibitions to offer.
The first, at the main library building, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, home of the famous lions, 
      who at this season proudly wear their evergreen wreath collars, is A Writer's Christmas: Dickens & More, which runs until January 8, 2018.  It includes not just the works of Dickens, but of other writers, giving a variety of views on the holiday season.         


The second, at the Library’s specialized Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center (Lincoln Center, between the Metropolitan Opera House and the Beaumont Theatre), is a display of that perennial New York favorite the New York City Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker.  The exhibition, Winter Wonderland: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, documents the first ten years of the ballet’s history, from 1954 to 1964 and should be a thrill for just about everyone.  It runs until January 27, 2018.

So, if a brisk walk in cold weather isn’t really your cup of tea, you can easily find something to suit in museums.  And maybe have a cup of something hot while you’re at it.

Need to Sit Down/Drink Something/Eat Something?

Visiting museums is a wonderful way to spend the day, but it does tend to make one both tired and hungry.  In my volunteer “job” as a Visitor Services representative at the Met Fifth Avenue I am frequently asked where to find food and something to drink.  Apparently few people are aware that most New York museums have restaurants and cafes within their walls.  These include:
  • ·         The Met Fifth Avenue (which has five public and two members only restaurants, plus a cocktail bar),
  • ·         The Met Breuer (which has two, one casual, the other more formal),
  • ·         The Morgan Library (which has two),
  • ·         The Museum of Modern Art (which has several tucked away on different floors),
  • ·         The New-York Historical Society (which has two),
  • ·         The Museum of the City of New York (which has one),
  • ·         The Neue Galerie (which has two), 
  •            The New York Public Library, Main Building (which has one) and
  • ·         The New York Public Library, Library for the Performing Arts (which has one).

There are also some reasonably priced places to eat within a block or two of those mentioned above as well as near the Frick, which at the moment does not have a restaurant.  There is really no need to run the discomfort and risk of eating from a street food cart, especially when the weather is frigid.

Although most visitors are grateful to hear that museums do offer so many dining options I’m sometimes asked where to eat outside the museum (and even near some of the mid-town attractions) and here’s my answer, at least for the areas around the museums mentioned here.

Near the Neue Galerie and the Met (86th Street – 84th Streets).  This is an expensive, residential area, where the majority of the restaurants are quite pricey, but there are a few possibilities outside the museums.

Demarchelier – 86th Street and Madison Avenue.  Classic French and pricier than most, but well worth the splurge if you can afford it.

Dean and Deluca – 85th Street and Madison Avenue.  Not a restaurant as such, but you can get sandwiches and salads and drinks and perch on a few stools in the window.

The New Amity Coffee Shop – 84th Street and Madison Avenue, west side of the Avenue.  This is a classic New York Greek diner.  It has had the same décor for at least the last 40 years, but the food is good, the staff is friendly (except at lunch time, when no staff anywhere is friendly) and the prices are pretty good as well.

Le Pain Quotidien – 84th Street and Madison Avenue, east side of Madison.  A branch of the well-known chain featuring some communal tables.  A bit on the pricey side for sandwiches, but usually very good.

Near the Met (82nd to 79th Streets).

Lexington Candy Shop – 83rd Street and Lexington Avenue.  This requires walking a couple of extra blocks, and is definitely a step back in time.  It’s a genuine lunch counter/ice cream parlor from the 1920s.  Presumably the stoves, etc. have been replaced over time and there was the “renovation” in the late 1980s when the pay telephone booths were removed to make way for two more tables, but that’s about it.  It’s been run by the same family since the 1920s.  Space is tight and it’s usually very busy.   The food echoes the décor and prices aren’t dirt cheap, but it’s worth the trip for the experience and to help it survive.

EAT – Madison Avenue between 80th and 81st Street.  This is one of the offshoots of the Zabar family’s empire.  There is a pricier restaurant here, but there is also a take-out division, with prepared sandwiches, etc. and a convenient bench outside the door if it’s decent weather, especially if you are drinking something hot.   Be warned though, the sandwiches and salads are not on the low end of price, although they are equivalent or slightly cheaper than you might pay in a diner.

Serafina Fabulous Pizza – Madison Avenue and 79th Street (upstairs).  One of a chain of mid-priced Italian eateries.  Offers pizza, pasta and entrees at moderate (but not cheap) prices.  The only drawback for this particular Serafina is that it is on the second floor and there is no elevator.
I can’t recommend anything else in the stretch between 84th and 79th.

Near the Met Breuer (79th to 72nd Street).  This area used to be plentifully supplied with restaurants and bakeries at all price ranges.  However, the rents have risen so high in the last decades that, one by one, they have mostly closed.  What is left is one Greek coffee shop, one moderate to expensive Italian restaurant, one moderate Italian themed café and several expensive restaurants, confined primarily to the side streets, where the rent is a little less.  What’s left are:

Sant Ambroeus -- Madison Avenue between 77th and 78th Street.  This is the oldest of the New York offshoots of the classic Milanese restaurant of the same name.  If you are coming here for lunch or dinner, it's expensive.  However, at the front of the restaurant is a bar area where you can have lighter fare, like panini or focaccia, and pastries at reasonable prices.  Do not miss the gelato, which is the REAL thing. 

Three Guys Coffee Shop – Madison Avenue between 75th and 76th Street, one-half block from the Breuer.  A large and more elegant version of the classic New York Greek diner.  The menu is extensive, the prices are a much steeper than usual for this type of restaurant and the crowds at lunchtime and on weekends are appalling, but it’s generally worth it.

Via Quadronno – 73rd Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues.  This is a tiny North Italian eatery.  It’s incredibly crowded at lunchtime and expensive for dinner.  However, the all-day panini/salad/pastry menu is reasonable and there are some bargains.  For example, instead of a cup of American coffee for $5, you get a pot, containing about 3 cups.

Nespresso.  If coffee and a tidbit (but not a meal) are what you want, you might try the newly opened branch of this Swiss company at Madison Avenue and 74th Street (the southern end of the block occupied by the Breuer).  Coffee is the main menu item, tidbits are small and there are no tables.  There are curved wooden seating areas where you can perch.

The Loeb Boathouse.  If a walk in the park would clear your head, you might try entering Central Park at either 79th , 76th  or 72nd Streets and following the paths to the main Lake.  The Loeb Boathouse sits on the north side of the Lake.  There are two distinct dining possibilities available within it. 
The first is the pricier Lakeside Restaurant, which offers somewhat upscale dining at somewhat upscale prices.  However, the atmosphere of a beautiful room opening onto the lake leaves a memorable impression and is definitely an "only in New York"experience.  This part is open late for dinner and can be accessed after dark by a shuttle bus that makes stops along Fifth Avenue from 79th to 72nd Streets.
The second dining room is the counter service Express Café.  Although not quite as lovely as the Lakeside room this does have its own atmosphere, complete with a cozy fire in winter and a view of the lake. There is also a small sheltered patio where one can sit outside, even in winter, if it isn’t too cold.  It offers burgers and hot dogs, as well as sandwiches, salads and soups, all of which are very good.  Not surprisingly, it’s hugely popular, especially on weekends, all year long. During the winter it is only open till 4:30.

Nearby the Boathouse and slightly closer to Fifth Avenue the Model Boat Lake (officially the Conservatory Water) sits between the 76th and 72nd Street entrances.  There, on the terrace of the model boat house, is a branch of Le Pain Quotidien which offers beverages and a limited menu of edibles, including hot dogs and baguette sandwiches during the season.  Seating is all outdoor, so once it becomes really cold it will likely shut down till spring.  But, on a pleasant not too cold day, it offers a nice breather while you sip your coffee or tea.

Near the Frick Museum (72nd Street to 68th Street).  What little exists in the immediate vicinity is very expensive.  So, to find more reasonably priced food you may need to head to Lexington Avenue, three blocks away.  Clustered around 70th Street and Lexington are several options, including a French restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a fish restaurant, a deli and a pizza joint.  Two good lower priced options are:

Neal’s Coffee Shop (70th Street and Lexington Avenue, east side of Lexington).  This is another Greek diner that hasn’t changed much since the 1970s, except for the addition of a back room with more seats.  Usually very crowded from breakfast through lunch.

Diagonally across the street, is Corrado Café (70th Street and Lexington Avenue, west side of Lexington).  Corrado is tiny, with limited seating inside and some seating outside which is useful in good weather.  Premade sandwiches and salads are reasonable and usually very good.  Also sells pastries and bread to take home.  Well worth the walk from Fifth.

Laduree – (Madison Avenue between 70th and 71st Street).  This is the New York outpost of the famous Parisian patisserie. It’s not exactly a restaurant, since it sells only confections and only has two tables.  It usually has a line, waiting to buy some of the incredible macarons.  I love the rose macarons, which taste just like eating a rose petal, only better.  Not cheap, but a macaron or two probably won't break your piggy bank.

Near the Museum of Modern Art (53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth).  This is in midtown.  There are lots of opportunities to find something within a moderate budget.  Going west, Sixth and Seventh Avenues are loaded with all manner of dining options.  Moving east the options, while still there, are more limited.  I can recommend two restaurants within one block of the Modern on the east side of Fifth Avenue.  They are:

Le Pain Quotidien (53rd Street between Fifth and Madison).  Another branch of the reliable chain.

Burger Heaven (53rd Street between Fifth and Madison).  One of a chain of modern coffee shops that offers what is probably the best hamburger in Manhattan, way better than the greasy offerings of the various Shake Shacks.

Near the Morgan Library (34th to 40th Streets).  The Morgan is also in a midtown area, with a variety of dining options.  My personal favorites are:

Moonstruck Coffee Shop – Madison at 38th Street.  This is a large, modern styled Greek diner with typical Greek diner food and spectacular bathrooms that are worth stopping here for.

Two branches of the popular sandwich and salad chain, Pret a Manger.  These are reasonably priced, good but very busy.   There are two within a very short walk from the Morgan.  The nearest is at Fifth Avenue and 37th Street, the other is at Madison Avenue and 39th Street.  The 39th Street Pret is quite large and not quite as crowded as it lies on a border between residential and commercial real estate.

Near the Cloisters (Fort Tryon Park, northern Manhattan)
Alas, the nearest thing to the Met Cloisters is the lovely New Leaf Café within Fort Tryon Park.  However, while the food can be spectacular it is pricey and almost always requires a reservation, especially on weekends.  The Cloisters does have a small eating place in the Trie cloister building, but only in warm weather.  For now, you are out of luck at the Cloisters itself.

Near the New York Historical Society (The Upper West Side between 79th and 72nd Streets)
The Upper West Side is replete with dining opportunities.  One block west of the Historical Society is Columbus Avenue, which offers many possibilities.  As this is not my home neighborhood and I don’t eat here often I hesitate to make recommendations.  However, a few suggestions are:

Coppola’s – West 79th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway.  Long running Italian restaurant with decent food and a usually packed house.  It has survived four decades of changes on the Upper West Side and is still going strong. 

Shake Shack – Columbus Avenue at 77th Street.  One of the numerous neighborhood outposts of the original in Madison Square Park.  Offers hamburgers primarily.  I personally do not like their hamburgers but they do have a large and faithful following.

Pappardelle – Columbus Avenue at 75th Street.  North Italian with a lovely dining room.

Arte Café – West 73rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Pleasant Italian with a reasonably priced menu.

You will also find several Starbuck’s Coffee shops on Columbus Avenue, something that you will not find near the East Side museums. 

Near the New York Public Library locations mentioned above

Near the Main Schwarzmann building, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street there are several low-priced options and a rather special mid-priced one.

McDonald’s.  The nearest is located on East 42nd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.  There is another at 40th and Madison Avenue.  The 42nd Street McDonald’s is closest to the north end of the library building, while the 40th Street location is closer to the southern end of the library.

Pret-a-Manger and Chipotle.  Both had locations directly across from the 42nd Street side entrance of the library building, between Fifth and Sixth (Avenue of the Americas) Avenues.

The Bryant Park Grill, in Bryant Park, behind the library building and close to the 40th Street entrance to Bryant Park.  A stylish alternative, a bit on the pricey side (lunch entrees run $20-30), but a lovely, if loud, experience.

There are other places to eat on the Sixth Avenue side of the park and, during the winter months, several temporary locations in association with the ice skating rink (which is installed over the enormous lawn). 

Near the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
In the immediate vicinity of Lincoln Center there are a few options that won’t entirely break your bank account.

P.J. Clarks, Columbus Avenue at 63rd Street.  Not the original P.J., which is on the East Side, but this branch has put down reasonably deep roots and has some of the same old New York pub atmosphere.  Prices range from $17 for the Classic Burger to the low $30s.

Café Fiorello, Broadway between 63rd and 64th Street.  This long running Italian offers a menu with variety, but is a bit pricey.

Bar Bolud, Broadway at 64th Street.   A more casual offshoot of the East Side Café Bolud, Bar Bolud offers both prix-fixe and a la carte lunches and dinners and a charcuterie menu.  A prix-fixe lunch currently costs $27.00 for a two-course and $34.00 for a three-course lunch.

Le Pain Quotidien, 65th Street between Broadway and Central Park West.  Another branch of the popular Belgian eateries, with somewhat pricey sandwiches, pastries, etc. 

Europan Café, Broadway between 65th and 66th Streets.  A small, deli style place, not really meant for eating in, but it does have a few very crowded tables, suitable for a quick sandwich or salad, not a relaxed meal. 

Tavern on the Green, inside Central Park at West 67th Street.  This is the reincarnation of the immensely popular restaurant that graced the park for many years.  It is on the pricey side and word of mouth isn’t terribly enthusiastic, but it might be worth a splurge.

Farther up the avenues that converge at Lincoln Square (i.e., Columbus and Broadway) there are a number of restaurants for all types of cuisine, pizzerias, bakeries.  The stretch from 67th to 79th Streets is particularly rich (as is the stretch of Amsterdam between 72nd and 86th Streets).  I have made some recommendations for the northern part (around 79th Street) when describing the surroundings of the New-York Historical Society.

Whichever of these exhibitions strike your fancy or respond to your interests, the important thing is to get out and see them.  Christmas is always a magical time in most of the museums.  Plain and workaday through most of the year, at Christmas they spring to life with seasonal décor.  There is nothing better than coming from a cold exterior world into a warm and beautifully decorated world that centers around art.

© M. Duffy, 2017

  1. (Holland Cotter, The New York Times, November 9, 2017,
  7. and Dalya Alberge, 'Lost' masterpiece by Spanish artist found hanging in Welsh castle”, The Guardian, November 19, 2017 at